Twitter today announced the Innovator’s Patent Agreement, their attempt to help defuse the patent chaos currently going on in the tech world. The real meat of the post is this:
It is a commitment from Twitter to our employees that patents can only be used for defensive purposes. We will not use the patents from employees’ inventions in offensive litigation without their permission. What’s more, this control flows with the patents, so if we sold them to others, they could only use them as the inventor intended.
I do like the GPL like virility of this. The one thing that I questioned was the term “defensive purposes”. That sounded vague. The IPA itself defines this:
(a) against an Entity that has filed, maintained, threatened, or voluntarily participated in an intellectual property lawsuit against Assignee or any of Assignee’s users, affiliates, customers, suppliers, or distributors;
(b) against an Entity that has filed, maintained, or voluntarily participated in a patent infringement lawsuit against another in the past ten years, so long as the Entity has not instituted the patent infringement lawsuit defensively in response to a patent litigation threat against the Entity; or
(c) otherwise to deter a patent litigation threat against Assignee or Assignee’s users, affiliates, customers, suppliers, or distributors.
This sounds like a big improvement to me. I’d still like to see something more explicit that deters Assignees and Inventors from agreeing to claims other than defensive purposes. While it says Assignees must get written permission from Inventors “without additional consideration or threat”. I question if that’s practical given the Assignee is generally the employer and controls the Inventors paycheck, medical benefits, and possible bonus.
Still, it’s an improvement over the current state of things. Kudos to Twitter for innovating and getting some dialog going. This still doesn’t get rid the need for some patent reform.